For citation:

Khadzhieva T.M. Religious and Mythological Characters and Motifs in the Nart Epic Balkars and Karachai. Studia Litterarum, 2020, vol. 5, no 2, pp. 412–423. (In English)

DOI: 10.22455/2500-4247-2020-5-2-412-423

Author: Т.М. Khadzhieva
Information about the author:

Tanzily M. Khadzhieva, PhD in Philology, Leading Research Fellow, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 a, 121069 Moscow, Russia.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Received: October 23, 2019
Published: June 25, 2020
Issue: 2020 Vol. 5, №2
Department: Folklore Studies
Pages: 412-423

UDK: 398
BBK: 82.3
Keywords: Karachays and Balkars, the Nart epic, mythological characters, mythological motifs.


During their many centuries of history, the Balkars and Karachays have created an extremely rich folklore. The heroic Nart epos occupies the central place in their oral poetic works; it is one of the national versions of the general Caucasus Nartiad. Among the Balkars and Karachays, as well as among other bearers of the Nartiad, the legends consist of a series of large and small cycles. Each cycle is a group of small (in bulk) legends and songs about the appearance of the Nart tribe on earth; about the various stages and events of the epic life of the heroes (birth, heroic childhood, the first exploit, marriage, and the struggle with mythical monsters, with a blood enemy, etc.). In the epos of the Balkars and Karachays, there are original individual songs and legends without parallels in any other national version of the Nartiad. They date basically from the archaic layer of the epic, since there is a predominance of motifs connected to the totemistic, animist, magic, and religious ideas of these peoples who, right up to the 19th century, had some survivals of primitive forms of religion and Christianity, alongside Islam. The Nart epos also reflects the fact that the Balkars and Karachays used to worshiping the sky, fire, water, heavenly lights, animals, trees, stones, etc., and that according to their ideas, each phenomenon and thing had its own Teyri (Tengri).


1 Adygi, balkartsy i karachaevtsy v izvestiiakh evropeiskikh avtorov [European authors on Adygs, Balkars, and Karachais]. Nal’chik, El’brus Publ., 1974. 635 p. (In Russ.)

2 Azamatov K.G. Perezhitki iazychestva v verovaniiakh balkartsev [Remnants of paganism in the beliefs of the Balkars]. In: Iz istorii feodal’noi Kabardino-Balkarii [From the history of the feudal Kabardino-Balkaria]. Nal’chik, KBNII Publ., 1981, pp. 143–161. (In Russ.)

3 Alieva A.I. Adygskii nartskii epos [Adyghe Nart epic]. Moscow, Nal’chik, El’brus Publ., 1969. 168 p. (In Russ.)

4 Veidenbaum E.G. Sviashchennye roshchi i derev’ia u kavkazskikh narodov [Sacred groves and trees among the Caucasian peoples]. In: Izvestiia kavkazskogo otdela Imperatorskogo russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva. St. Petersburg, 1878, no 3, pp. 153–179. (In Russ.)

5 Gumilev L.N. Drevnie tiurki [Ancient Turks]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1967. 247 p. (In Russ.)

6 Dalgat U.B. Geroicheskii epos chechentsev i ingushei [Heroic epic of Chechens and Ingush]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1972. 467 p. (In Russ.)

7 Dzhapua Z.D. Abkhazskii nartskii epos: Tekstologiia. Semantika. Poetika [Abkhazian Nart Epic: Textology. Semantics. Poetics]. Moscow, Nauka, Vostochnaia lit. Publ., 2016. 381 p. (In Russ.)

8 Zelenin D. Totemy-derev’ia v skazaniiakh i obriadakh evropeiskikh narodov [Tree totems in the tales and rites of European nations]. Moscow, Leningrad, Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR Publ., 1937. 77 p. (In Russ.)

9 Ingushskii nartskii epos [Ingush Nart epic], comp by I.A. Dakhkil’gov. Nal’chik, Tetragraf Publ., 2012. 594 p. (In Russ.)

10 Istoriia avgan Moiseia Kagankatvatsi, pisatelia X v. [The story of Agan Moysey Kagankatvatsi, a 10th century author]. St. Petersburg, Tipografiia Akademii nauk Publ., 1861. 376 p. (In Russ.)

11 Klyashtorny S.G. Mifologicheskie syuzhety v drevnetyurkskikh pamyatnikakh [Mythological subjects in ancient Turkic monuments]. In: Tyurkologichesky sbornik, 1977. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1981, pp. 117–138. (In Russ.)

12 Karachaevo-balkarskii fol’klor. Khrestomatiia [Karachay-Balkarian folklore. Anthology], comp., introd. by T.M. Khadzhieva. Nal’chik, Izdatel’skii tsentr “El’-Fa” Publ., 1996. 592 p. (In Karachay-Balkar)

13 Malkonduev X.X. Otgoloski tengrianstva v karachaevo-balkarskom fol’klore. [Echoes of Tengrianism in Karachay-Balkarian folklore]. In: Tezisy Vsesoiuznoi sessii po itogam polevykh etnograficheskikh issledovanii 1980–1981 gg. Tashkent, 1986, pp. 153–154. (In Russ.)

14 Mify narodov mira: entsiklopediia: v 2 t. [Myths of the peoples of the world: encyclopedia: in 2 vols.] Moscow, Sovetskaia entsiklopediia Publ., 1980—1982. (In Russ.)

15 Narty. Adygskii geroicheskii epos [Adyghe heroic epic], comp. by A.I. Alieva, A.M. Gadagatl’, 3.P. Kardangushev. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1974. 420 p. (In Russ.)

16 Narty. Osetinskii geroicheskii epos [The Narts. Ossetian heroic epic], comp. by T.A. Khamitsaev, A.X. Biazyrov, scientific consultant by V.I. Abaev. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1989–1990. Book 1–3. (In Russ.)

17 Narty. Geroicheskii epos balkartsev i karachaevtsev [The Narts. The heroic epic of the Balkars and Karachays], comp. by R.A.-K. Ortabaeva, T.M. Khadzhieva, A.Z. Kholaev; introd., comm. and glossary by T.M. Khadzhievа, ex. ed. by A.I. Alieva. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1994. 654 p. (In Russ.)

18 Nekliudov S.Iu. Geroicheskii epos mongol’skikh narodov [Heroic epic of the Mongolian peoples]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1984. 509 p. (In Russ.)

19 Nekliudov S.Iu. Mifologiia tiurkskikh i mongol’skikh narodov [Mythology of Turkic and Mongolian peoples]. In: Tiurkologicheskii sbornik. 1977 [Turkic collection. 1977]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1981, pp. 183–202. (In Russ.)

20 Poppe N.N. Khalkha-mongol’skii geroicheskii epos [Khalkha Mongolian Heroic Epic]. Moscow, Leningrad, Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR Publ., 1937. 128 p. (In Russ.)

21 Potapov L.P. Umai — bozhestvo drevnikh tiurkov [Umai — the deity of the ancient Türks]. In: Tiurkologicheskii sbornik. 1972 [Turkic collection. 1972]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1973, pp. 265–286. (In Russ.)

22 Rogal’-Levitskii Dm. Pesennoe tvorchestvo karachaevtsev [Songwriting of Karachais]. Sovetskoe iskusstvo, 1928, no 3, pp. 58–65. (In Russ.)

23 Stebleva I.V. K rekonstruktsii drevnetiurkskoi religiozno-mifologicheskoi Sistemy [On the reconstruction of the ancient Turkic religious and mythological system]. In: Tiurkologicheskii sbornik. 1972 [Turkic collection. 1972]. Moscow, 1973, pp. 213–226. (In Russ.)

24 Tul’chinskii N.P. Poemy, legendy, pesni, skazki i poslovitsy gorskikh tatar Nal’chikskogo okruga Terskoi oblasti [Poems, legends, songs, and tales of the proverbs mountain Tatars of the Nal’chikskovo district of the Terek region]. In: Terskii sbornik na 1904 [Terek collection for 1904]. Vladikavkaz, 1903, issue 6, pp. 249–334. (In Russ.)

25 Urusbiev S.-A. Skazaniia o nartskikh bogatyriakh u tatar-gortsev Piatigorskogo okruga Terskoi oblasti [Tales of the Nart heroes among the Tatars-Highlanders Pyatigorsk district of Terek region]. In: Sbornik materialov dlia opisaniia mestnostei i plemen Kavkaza [A collection of materials for describing localities and tribes of the Caucasus], 1881, issue 1, depart. 2, pp. 1-U111; 1-42. (In Russ.)

26 Frezer D. Zolotaia vetv’ [The golden bough]. Moscow, Politizdat Publ., 1980. 832 p. (In Russ.)

27 Chursin G. Pochitanie derev’ev na Kavkaze [The veneration of trees in the Caucasus]. Kavkaz. Il. prilozh., 1903, no 5. (In Russ.)

28 Shamanov I.M. Drevnetiurkskoe verkhovnoe bozhestvo Tengri (Teiri) v Karachae i Balkarii [The ancient Turkic supreme deity Tengri (Theories) in Karachai and Balkaria]. In: Problemy arkheologii i etnografii Karachaevo-Cherkesii [Problems of archeology and ethnography of Karachay-Cherkessia]. Cherkessk, Karachay-Cherkess. Research Institute of History, Philology and Economics, 1982, pp. 155–170. (In Russ.)